Sri Lanka Travel Guide
This island nation – once known as Ceylon -- off the southern tip of India is not often thought of as a suitable travel destination for seniors given its history of civil war, but for history buffs, and those interested in nature, wildlife and cultural festivals, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer.
It’s not a country recommended for first-time visitors to Asia, but more for adventurous seniors who have already visited the more popular destinations in Asia, and are looking to do something different. Sri Lanka’s potential as a tourism destination was recognised in 2017 when it was voted Asia’s Leading Destination at the annual World Travel Awards (Asia & Australasia).
The Central Highlands is a very scenic part of the country with terraced tea gardens and romantic landscapes, offering seniors a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Colombo.
Sri Lanka also offers beach resort holidays at some of the cheapest prices in Asia. However, it’s important to check local weather conditions in advance of booking because the best months of the west coast where most of the resorts are located are not the same as the best months on the east coast.
This hill station city in the Central Highlands is the most popular destination for seniors in Sri Lanka because of its cooler climate and green tropical scenery. It is also the home of the famous Esala Perahara festival during which the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is paraded through the streets. The Temple of the Tooth is just one of many temples that can be visited in and around Kandy.
The Royal Botanic Garden at Peradeniya and Royal Forest Park at Udawattakele are worth visits by garden and nature lovers. For those interested in recent history, the Kandy Garrison Cemetery and Commonwealth War Cemetery are worth visiting too.
Often listed as the premier tourist attraction in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a ancient rock fortress sitting 200 metres above the plains about 75 km north of Kandy. On top of the massive granite outcrop is the remains of an ancient palace.
From the top of the rock, the outlines of an ancient city on the plains below can be seen. The climb to the top is strenuous and can only be tackled by seniors who are very fit. However, the site is still worth visiting even without the climb because there are many interesting carvings and paintings around the bottom of the rock.
This colonial town near the southern tip of Sri Lanka will appeal not only to history buffs but also to travellers who just enjoy walking or cycling around an old town and exploring its nooks and crannies, and seeing how the architecture has been influenced by the Portuguese, Dutch and English occupations.
Galle has many interesting shops and eating options, but be prepared to bargain, because the first asking prices are generally well inflated for visitors from overseas. Organised tours of the Galle Fort can be organised for those who want to learn more about the history of the town.
Yala National Park
For those who have never had the opportunity to join an African safari, a visit to the Yala National Park is the next best option. The park has the highest concentration of wild leopards in the world, as well as many elephants, bears and birds.
For the best experience it is best to stay overnight nearby or in cabins inside the park (although they are very basic and may not suit the needs of many seniors) so that the park can be visited early in the morning before day-trippers arrive by bus from Colombo or Galle.
Best months to visit Sri Lanka
It is difficult to recommend particular months to visit Sri Lanka as a whole because there are significant variations in the weather from one part of the country to another, and there are no completely dry months. That’s because Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons – the southwest monsoon from May to September and the northeast monsoon from December to February – and two inter-monsoon periods of about two months each (March/April and October/November) can still be quite unsettled.
In recent years these complicated weather patterns have become even more unpredictable with global warming, and the appearance of stronger typhoons in the Bay of Bengal during the second inter-monsoon period.
In general, in the southwestern part of the country which attracts most visitors, the driest months are February/March and the wettest months are May and October/November. The coolest months are January/February and the hottest months are March to May. Therefore February is probably the best month to visit that part of the country.
As Sri Lanka is not a large country, temperatures do not vary much with latitude. They vary mainly with elevation with daytime temperatures reducing by about 2-3°C for each 1,000 ft. of elevation.
Currency and exchange rates
The Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) is a weak currency having steadily depreciated from seven rupees to the US dollar in 1977 to around 160 rupees to the US dollar today. However, as with many other currencies of developing countries in Asia, the weakness of the currency should not be of any concern to travellers visiting the country for only a few weeks, or even a few months.
It is unlikely that you will find Sri Lankan rupees overseas, and in any event importation of anything more than a small amount of Sri Lankan rupees is prohibited. Therefore it will be necessary to exchange a small amount of hard currency at the airport on arrival. It is best to bring US dollars or Euros for this purpose.
Colombo has many money exchange shops where larger sums can be changed at better rates than the airport on Galle Road near the Wellawate Mosque, on Mudalige Mawatha Road near the President’s Palace, and a block further away on York Street. Note that only the money exchange places on Galle Road are open on Sundays.
To convert unspent rupees back to US dollars or Euros at the airport on departure, a bank receipt for the original conversion will be required. Money exchange receipts are not accepted. Therefore it is advisable to exchange a small amount of cash at a bank for this purpose even though the exchange rate will not be as good as at a money exchange shop.